2020 Solo Backcountry Idaho Elk Recap

sneaky

Senior Member
Joined
Feb 1, 2014
Messages
6,848
Location
ID
I must say, you own the best pair of Danner Pronghorns on the planet.

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COOPDUCK

Member
Joined
Apr 4, 2020
Messages
51
@COOPDUCK this is Matt that was in there and killed one of the bulls the day before. What a small world we live in. Glad to hear you made it out of there. Hell of a pack out.
I started reading the story and was saying to myself “that sounds familiar, and that, and, then to read about guys shooting in the canyon as you arrived, oh yeah those pics are his bull for sure!” Excellent job in what I know is very volatile country. we had 8 men come in to pack 2 bulls out. Most would not consider a hunt in this country that far in hiking with the Rugged terrain, let alone solo. That’s a big accomplishment.

Hey Matt good to hear from you!! I’ll shoot you a PM. Still chuckling about your platoon you brought in to haul your bulls out. Hah, I was really doing my some soul searching about my current choice of friends after seeing a whole team show up within hours to help pack you out!! Where did I go wrong? What life choices led to me being up here alone? Where can I find new friends to replace my old ones?
 

thehuntingkid

Junior Member
Joined
Dec 4, 2020
Messages
25
hey all

Have never put the time in to post a thread like this in all my hunting and fishing adventures, but I felt this one needed to be told. Rewind back to early in 2020, before everything went to hell. I had coordinated a trip my family and I had talked about for several years, an Idaho rifle elk hunt, which would be our first big out of state elk hunt. The 4 of us bought tags and the excitement started to build. Unfortunately, covid had other plans, and like everyone else in the world who had vacations, celebrations, events, and millions of other plans they were looking forward to living in color and in person, our big elk hunt fell apart. The other three people in my party decided the Idaho trip we had planned was not in the cards with covid. I couldn't think of a better way to socially distance than with the elk and wolves and bears. So what was supposed to be a big communal trip turned into a solo trip earlier this summer.

I am no stranger to hunting big game alone, but this would be on a much grander scale than anything I had attempted before. In recent years, most of my elk hunting has been with the bow, and typically out of a treestand. While much of this hunting has been alone, I am walking in just a few miles and back to bed in my nice warm truck camper every night. A few years ago I was drawn for a mule deer rifle rut tag, and did most of that hunt solo, but again back in my camper every night. After putting on a ton of miles during that trip, walking 5-7 miles in and out every morning and night, I quickly came to the realization if I ever had a similar hunt in the future, I really needed the capability to spike out for 3-5 nights at a time. This solo trip became the inspiration I needed to develop that capability.

I will go into a few more details at the end of this on some of the winners and losers in the gear I chose, I know most of us are gearheads. I will say this forum was very helpful in helping me decide which direction I wanted to go on a number of items. Much of my spring and summer was spent developing handloads for the two rifles I would bring with me, a 338wm and a 7rm. On the mule deer hunt a few years ago a fall ended my trip a day early after I thought I landed on my scope, it just blew my confidence, so I wanted to have a spare on this hunt. I also rescoped both rifles with scopes designed for dialing elevation, anticipating shots out to 500 yards or more. I put a lot of time and research into gear choices, and spent many an evening with my wife, rucking around the neighborhood with 50-75lbs in my pack, or as she called it "hucking." I also spent a lot of time on the trigger, getting very comfortable with dialing and MOA needed for different ranges. A dope card out to 550 yards affixed to both rifles left me feeling as confident as I ever have been. The "hucking" and range time would both prove to be beneficial.

The unit I had a tag for is a popular one in Idaho, good success rates and high participation. I travel often for work into Idaho, so my initial plan was that I would be able to spend many weekends putting boots on the ground, tagging on scouting days to weekly business trips. Again....covid. OnX, the internet, bios, and rangers became my scouting tools. The unit I would be hunting would be any bull, and would be primarily around 7-8k feet in elevation. Over the summer I put my plan together. Having experienced many times having a plan based off OnX imagery, then getting punched directly in the face when you get on the scene, I had a few different plans in place. I knew I wanted to get away from the crowds as best I could, so I had a plan A, B, and C, with A being the most ambitious in terms of mileage, and C being something I knew I could accomplish. The area of the unit I would be hunting is known as being pretty steep, wild and rough. I am 41 years of age, and in fairly decent shape. In my mind though I'm still 18, does anyone else not feel that way? Reminds me of Top Gun, "your ego is writing checks your body can't cash!!"

I left home on October 23rd and made an uneventful 9 hour drive to where I would be hunting. An overnight on the way put me NEAR my target trailhead early afternoon on the 24th, the day before my season was to begin. I say NEAR my trailhead, because as many who hunted this Idaho rifle opener know, we got a winter blast at the very beginning of the season. I drove to within about a mile of the trailhead, then was stopped by snow. It would snow hard all that day and night, and drop down into what I am pretty sure were single digits for the first couple nights. I didn't even bother to stop and put up my base camp arriving that afternoon, just drove as far as I could, packed my bag with food, and started walking. Leaving my truck in frigid temps, snow piling up, I had a funny thought. Every once in a while you read an article about an idiot swimming in an alligator pond or something similar. Idiot gets eaten, and we all sit back and think well that was a pretty predictable outcome. Walking away from my truck, I thought, if I was to die doing this, a lot of sane people would think, "well that was pretty predictable, what intelligent person walks into the mountains in a freezing snowstorm alone?"

As predicted, my plan A was much too ambitious, I ended up walking the mile or so to the trailhead, then an additional 5.03 miles to where I would set up my camp. My hunt had begun. I awoke Sunday morning to about 8 inches of snow, and bitter cold. The first three days of my hunt were pretty uneventful to be honest. A lot of miles working the large basin I was camped in. Initially I was very optimistic about the conditions, knowing the fresh snow would make tracking very easy, and I felt I would quickly get an idea of where the elk were and weren't. Let me tell you, the basin I was in was not where they were. I did not see a single elk track until I threw in the towel Tuesday afternoon, and pulled out of the spike camp I had set up. Walking back to the truck that afternoon, I cut a few elk tracks in the snow, but still not much to get excited about. I set up base camp along the road Tuesday evening, with the plan that I would hunt a lower elevation drainage for at least a few days.

Wednesday and Thursday I would hunt a couple different spots, and again put on a ton of miles just trying to find elk. Hunting a brand new spot is always tough, as in my experience you spend a lot of time initially crossing unproductive areas off the list. I was seeing more sign, but also a lot more people. By the end of the day Thursday, still not having even laid eyes on a live elk, I was starting to doubt my skills and intuition. Was really starting to feel like all my instincts were just wrong, and starting to really second guess what I was doing. Like so many have said before me about a solo hunt like this, the decision making and mental game is REALLY tough. By Thursday night I was pretty down in the dumps, and really not sure what to do next. I was losing motivation, and starting to miss the wife and kids. I ate dinner that night not sure what to do Friday morning. Over the last 6 days since I had arrived, the weather had changed to absolutely beautiful, sunny and cool during the day, and cold at night, but not bone chilling like the first few nights. The south facing slope I had originally set my spike camp in had been getting sun all day long, and much of the snow had melted off. I made the decision as I went to bed that night that in the morning, I would drive to the trailhead, with the road now mostly free of snow, and make the 5 mile walk back into the ORIGINAL basin I had set my spike camp in. That was the basin I had scouted and dreamt about all summer, and I was going to give it a second go. My plan was to hunt hard Friday through the end of the season Tuesday.
Fantastic story and even better the way it was written...
 

Blinddog

Senior Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2018
Messages
113
Location
MN
I must say, you own the best pair of Danner Pronghorns on the planet.

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My Pronghorns have never been worth a shit off flat ground, too much toe slide. Glad to hear they worked for you in the mountains, I would only use them as a back boot if my Meindls got wet.
 

100%DIYazCOUES

Junior Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2017
Messages
25
Congrats on what sounded like a great hunt! Thoroughly enjoyed the write up, and the mini gear review is a GREAT idea. Awesome job all the way around
 

Disco14

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 11, 2014
Messages
220
congrats on sticking with it and getting your bull. Hell of a story and thanks for taking the time to share with us. You will have that memory for life and that experience as a reminder!
 

Runar

Newbie
Joined
Sep 25, 2015
Messages
6
Best story I’ve read this year, well written and told. You captured the ups and downs and mental challenges and the obvious physical challenge really well. What a roller coaster. Congratulations, way to get it done. Danner boots work for me
 

Eddyzima

Junior Member
Joined
May 20, 2020
Messages
11
Some final notes on gear. My Mystery Ranch Pintler was great, would definitely make that purchase again, it packed like a mule. Loved having the Kifaru universal gun bearer, absolutely essential to be hands free. Little embarrassed to say it, but this was the first trip I have ever used hiking sticks on, I went with the Cascade Mountain Techs that a lot of people recommend. I might put those hiking sticks up there as the single most important piece of gear on this trip honestly. They prevented probably dozens of falls on some downright treacherous snowy, icy, and muddy terrain. I wore my Smartwool 250 base layers and socks nearly non stop the entire trip, and they were awesome. I have been an Under Armour cold gear guy for many years, but this merino is worlds better. Also wore my Eddie Bauer Lined Guide pants every single day, and they were awesome too, very good ROI for the money. Like most have said, I am having some of the stitching pulling out on a pocket, but I can't see how there is anything better for the money. I'm going to be a bit of a contrarian on the next few items, I know a lot of people are convinced otherwise. My Danner Pronghorns were perfect the entire trip, no blisters or hot spots or cold or wet feet. Tons of steep miles through never ending mud, slush, ice, snow day after day after day. Never drying out, freezing at night, they never skipped a beat. Buy a boot that fits you well, they don't need to be Italian made. This is my 3rd or 4th big trip on these boots, and I have been nothing but pleased.


I went back and forth on my tent choice, and was pretty convinced for awhile I had to have a hot tent and stove with the temps I'd be seeing. I ended up buying a Big Agnes 2P Copper Spur, and it was perfect for me and my gear. I opened the tent vents up at night, and hung one of the small candle lanterns from the top of the tent. I really think it took the edge off like many have said. I also went back and forth on my sleeping system. Some of you may think I went overkill, but I was really happy with what I chose. I have an older North Face 20 degree bag that I bought many years ago, and I don't recall it being top of line back then. I thought hard about replacing it with one of the fancy new bags. In the end, I chose to go a different direction. I bought a thermarest mummy bag fleece liner, and placed it inside the sleeping bag. I laid a space blanket over the floor of my tent. I took an uninsulated klymit static v pad, and sandwiched it in between two thermarest foam pads. Lastly, I purchased a klymit luxe sheet and pillow. The sheet kept all the pads contained and working as a single unit, and my bag from sliding around, and held the pillow in place. Much of my problem with sleep systems while camping has been sliding, either me off the pad, or pillow out from under my head. This system solved all that. I can't think of a way to have a more comfortable sleep experience in the backcountry, short of packing a cot in. I used my jetboil continually throughout the trip, and never had a problem with fuel like some people have mentioned, even the first few days where it was downright COLD. I used SnowPeak GigaPower Fuel. I chose to use tablets for the most part, fearing the temps would spell trouble for my katadyn filter. I also loved having my LifeStraw so I could pack water in at every chance while my tablet was doing its work. Garmin InReach was invaluable for checking in with wife every day, had no issues with reliability or connectivity, and battery lasted forever with the setting I had it on. I used vaseline soaked cotton balls for firestarters, they worked great. The only real loser on the gear front I experienced was in regards to my gloves. I took a recommendation from the forum to go with Kinco leather gloves, treated with SnoSeal or Nikwax. I purchased those, as well as merino liner gloves. The Kinco gloves were so heavy, and had so little dexterity, I could do absolutely nothing with them. The first few days it was bitter cold. I would be wearing the liners, and if a slight breeze kicked up for a few minutes, I'm not kidding my fingers would go from fine to emergency painfully cold in a snap. I would rip the liners off and throw the kinkos on, and while they would at least get my fingers warmed up, they were useless on just about every other front. I really think I would go with a waterproof, windproof shell with some insulation, but great dexterity as well. Then I would make sure I could double them up with the merino liners for even more warmth. The kincos were too tight, I couldn't wear the liners under them. And they also seemed to stiffen up when it was bitter cold, which wasn't great. Anyways I would definitely go a different direction next time. Can't think of much else at the moment, hope this inspires one of you to try your hand at a solo elk trip. It could well be one of the most fun, amazing, challenging, grueling, miserable, and terrifying things you've ever done.
Congratulations man!
 
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